Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council approved by 20 votes to four the nomination of Ivan Geshev to be the country’s next Prosecutor-General, at a marathon meeting overshadowed by protests that blocked streets in the country’s capital city Sofia.
The nomination of Geshev, who controversially was the sole nominee for the post, is subject to approval by Bulgaria’s head of state, President Roumen Radev.
If confirmed, Geshev will take office in January 2020, succeeding Sotir Tsatsarov, to serve a seven-year term in office.
The sitting of the Supreme Judicial Council began at 10am and ended, with a few short adjournments, just after 8pm.
In the course of those about 10 hours, Geshev spelt out his vision for the office of Prosecutor-General and faced numerous questions, from members of the council and from interested organisations, including NGOs.
But such has been the controversy attending his nomination that the story was not just about the lengthy proceedings within the SJC building in Sofia’s Exarch Yosif Street, but what was happening elsewhere in Bulgaria’s capital city, as protests for and against his nomination mobilised.
Within the building where the SJC met, the only potential interruption came from an alleged bomb threat, about 50 minutes into the meeting of the council. Discussion about whether to evacuate went on for about nine minutes, as members of the SJC agreed to dismiss the threat as an attempt to disrupt its proceedings.
In the street, there was a “counter-protest”, in support of Geshev, which critics derided as made up as largely of close-cropped, tattoed in some cases, “football fans” and bussed-in supporters, all behind a notably large phalanx of police.
Protesters against Geshev said that they were not admitted to the street outside the SJC headquarters. Journalists covering the event from outside the building were checked by police for credentials and identity cards and escorted in and out of the precinct.
Prevented from gathering outside the SJC building, anti-Geshev protesters rallied at the Eagle Bridge intersection, blocking traffic for many hours but allowing ambulances and police vehicles to pass. After 6pm, numbers of the anti-Geshev protesters grew, and word on the street was that at least some intended to stay the night.
With deliberate irony, the protest at Eagle Bridge became a Facebook event, to “celebrate” the election of Geshev. “Everyone is invited as long as they bring champagne and tears with them,” the post said.
At the SJC building, while the pro-Geshev group faded away by mid-afternoon even as the anti-Geshev protesters increased in number at Eagle Bridge, Geshev was expressing his confidence that he could handle his responsibilities and tasks were he confirmed.
This confidence, he said, arose from his many years in law enforcement and particularly at the Prosecutor’s Office.
In the course of the 10 hours, Geshev repeatedly – either in his statement or in response to questions – hit out at the “political and economic circles in Bulgaria who have serious financial and media resources that have been affected by law enforcement prosecutors”.
“Over the years these people have fed on that talk and built their ideological base on compromising attacks against prosecutors and the judiciary,” he said.
Geshev said that he would not allow the media, political or business circles to dictate to him whom to prosecute and whom not.
In the SJC building and outside it, the Geshev question was a set-piece confrontation between those who support the status quo and those who call for reforms, a confrontation made all the more heady by the fact that the council session was held just three days before Bulgaria goes to the polls in mayoral and municipal elections.
At Eagle Bridge, participants included the Sofia mayoral candidate and supporters of Democratic Bulgaria, who like the “oligarchs” opposed to Geshev have closely involved themselves in protests against the nominee. Inside the SJC building, those in the pro-Geshev camp portrayed the protests against him as the work of a political party, hardly mentioning Democratic Bulgaria – which is headed by former justice minister Hristo Ivanov – by name.
In the closing hours of the SJC meeting, Supreme Court of Cassation President Judge Lozan Panov spoke strongly against Geshev, deriding the “unlimited power” that Geshev would enjoy in his seven-year term in office and dismissing the support that had been expressed for Geshev as a “PR action”.
Speaking in favour of Geshev, incumbent Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov portrayed him as just the person for the job, coming from a prosecutorial background unlike some of his predecessors.
On the issue of the protests against Geshev, Tsatsarov said that some participants were there for their personal convictions: “No one can make them like Geshev, as no one can make me like Panov”.
Others, however, according to Tsatsarov, were there because of what he called “nasty political games”.
Speaking after the SJC vote, Geshev said that he was sure that President Radev would conform to the powers conferred on him by Bulgaria’s constitution, rather than making a choice under “external political pressure”.
As to those who had come to support him, “I have no idea who they are. I have no relationship with them”. As to those opposing him, he had no idea about them either. The only dividing line, Geshev said, was whether you obey the law or not. “Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” he said.
According to reporters at the scene, those remaining at the “counter-protest” in favour Geshev, on hearing the result of the SJC vote, shouted “Victory!” Those opposed shouted: “Mafia, go home!”